Martin Luther King, Jr. Died Without A Will
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968)
In 2012, even more lawsuits are forthcoming because Martin Luther King, Jr., died without a will.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for being an iconic figure in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world, using nonviolent methods following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work promoting nonviolent resolutions. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.
It's kind of ironic, that he was trying to eliminate fighting, and then inspired his decendents to have their own conflicts. King procrastinated with his own legal planning and died without a will.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. did not create an estate plan.
Because of this, his legacy has been scarred by fighting among his children over his estate, including claims of secrecy, mismanagement, and misappropriating assets. Many years ago, MLK’s heirs formed a corporation to manage King’s estate, but then fought over control over the corporation. Finally, the heirs reached a settlement and ended that particular fight.
That was only one estate fight. The corporation which operates the estate went after a television anchor in Southern Mississippi, named Howard Nelson Ballou. The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc., sued Ballou and claimed he has possession of historic documents relating to King.
These include handwritten letters from King, transcripts of speeches he delivered, statements and newsletters he authored, a handwritten letter by Rosa Parks, and similar writings of great importance to King’s efforts in the 1950's civil rights movement.
Ballou’s parents had been close friends with King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Ballou’s father was King’s fraternity brother, and his mother had been King’s personal secretary in the 1950's. She helped him research, type and edit his speeches, answered his mail, and made his travel arrangements. She says that, through her relationship with King, he gave her the documents.
Ballou’s mother, Maude Williams Ballou, now 86 years old, recently said in a sworn statement that King wanted her to keep the documents by giving them to her at different times, and telling her, “Here, Maude, this is for you.” She says she always considered the writings to be her personal belongings, and King never asked for them back between then and the day he was assassinated in 1968.
Eventually, the courts will determine what Reverend King intended when he gave the documents to Maude Ballou. Did he want her to hold onto them as an employee, or keep them as gifts? Obviously, no one really knows, making this lawsuit a battle of the heirs or a difficult court decision.
That is the case of decendents, lawsuits, and courts involving gifts and verbal promises. The battles happen to families of all different social stratas, especially when those who passed away failed to make estate plans or their wishes clear in a will or trust.
King could have clarified his intent easily by creating a simple will. Instead, there are expensive lawsuits where no one really knows what he intended. Maude swears under oath that the documents were gifts to her and remained as personal belongings to her family ever since, without King or proof.
Most everyone knows of fights over personal property such as silverware, jewelry, artwork, furniture, Christmas ornaments, family pictures, and now computer data.
That’s why everyone should clearly document their intentions in a will and a trust, with the help of an experienced estate planner.